VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI insisted yesterday that all of society's institutions and not just the Catholic Church must be held to "exacting" standards in their response to sex abuse of children, and defended the church's efforts to confront the problem.
Benedict acknowledged in remarks to visiting U.S. bishops during an audience at the Vatican that pedophilia was a "scourge" for society, and that decades of scandals over clergy abusing children had left Catholics in the United States bewildered.
"It is my hope that the church's conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge, which affects every level of society," he said.
"By the same token, just as the church is rightly held to exacting standards in this regard, all other institutions, without exception, should be held to the same standards," the pope said.
An official of a U.S. group advocating for victims of clergy abuse lamented that Benedict, with his remarks, was setting a "terrible example" for bishops.
"No public figure talks more about child safety but does little to actually make children safer than Pope Benedict," David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in an emailed statement.
The pedophile scandal has exploded in recent decades in the United States, but similar clergy sex abuse revelations have tainted the church in many other countries, including Mexico, Ireland, and several other European nations, including Italy.
But the most high-profile sex abuse case in the United States at the moment doesn't involve the church. Penn State University's former defensive football coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys, and the fallout has led to the firing of longtime coach Joe Paterno and the departure of university president Graham Spanier.